Authors usually appreciate reader feedback even when it is negative as long as the criticism is constructive. In my case, I received a compliment accompanied by a personal story I’d like to share because it relates to one of my hot button issues, firearms safety. I apologize in advance for the unpleasant photos below, but I feel they are illustrative of the damage firearms can do if not handled carefully.
Mr. D wrote me regarding The Handbook of Modern Percussion Revolvers, and we exchanged several emails. The following is the conversation.
Mr. D: In your book, on page 106, you wrote: “Extreme care must be exercised when installing the loaded cylinders in the pistol frame.” I can attest to the importance of this statement based on an accident the occurred to me when firing an Uberti 1860 Army with a conversion cylinder. Here is a description of what happened:
Five rounds were loaded in the pistol and fired without mishap. The empty cartridge cases were removed from the cylinder and five fresh cartridges were placed in the chambers. Upon placing the cylinder on the cylinder arbor, one round went off sending lead fragments into my hand. The fragments produced two shallow wounds, a through and through wound from the palm to the heel of my left hand, two blisters and some minor powder burns. Bleeding was extensive. EMT personnel were called to transport me to the hospital. I was lucky, as no bones or nerves were affected by the wound.
The left and center photos are of my palm. The right-hand photo is the exit wound in the heel of my hand.
Morgan: Glad to make your acquaintance, and I’m glad you had a positive outcome. Just sorry it happened to you.
I read historical anecdotes from the 19th century about swapping out loaded cylinders. “Grey Ghosts of the Confederacy” and “Three Years with Quantrill” are both good reads on the Kansas-Missouri theater.
Looking on YouTube and other sites, you can find people who demonstrate how fast they can swap the cylinders on their Remington clones. The scene in Pale Rider where Clint Eastwood changes out the cylinder of his Remington gives me the chills every time I watch it.
I have several friends who use the R&D cylinders, but I’ve always preferred to avoid them due to the accident potential. If I’m that worried about having enough rounds on tap, I’ll carry at least one other pistol.
Your estimation of the cause of your accident sounds reasonable to me. One thing that you didn’t mention is the possibility of a high primer. If all of those cartridges were handloads, it is possible one of the primers wasn’t seated all of the way down. If that was the case, the firing pin may have been in contact with the primer as soon as the back of the cylinder was put in place creating a “stuck” firing pin condition. High primers are known to tie up revolvers, so I make sure to run my finger over the bottoms of my cartridges to check for high primers before loading the rounds.
Mr. D: Believe me I am extremely careful now when I am using conversion cylinders. I wanted to bring my accident to your attention because your book was the only one that I’ve read that ever gave even a mention of a potential danger when putting a loaded conversion cylinder into any percussion revolver. If you write a second edition you may want to expand on the warning. All the best and thanks for a great book.
Excerpt from the Police Accident Report
When firing this pistol in the future the following precautions must be taken:
- Verify that each firing pin is free floating every time the cylinder is loaded and before placing the cylinder cap on the cylinder.
- Verify that each firing pin is in the raised position after placing the cylinder cap on the cylinder.
- Make sure all cartridges are fully seated in the chambers before replacing the cylinder cap. DO NOT FORCE ANY CARTRIDGES INTO THE CHAMBERS IF THEY WILL NOT SEAT FREELY.
- When placing the loaded cylinder on the arbor KEEP THE LEFT HAND ABOVE THE CYLINDER SO THAT NO PART OF THE HAND IS IN FRONT OF THE CHAMBERS.
- Make sure that the hammer is in the safe position when placing the cylinder on the arbor.
Just because a gun is an “antique”, it deserves no less care and respect than any other object capable of inflicting life threatening injuries. In many cases the antiques, and their replicas, require greater care than modern arms because metallurgy and design were far less sophisticated than that available today.
It is our duty to be safe with our guns. Many fine books have been written on antique and replica arms. These are my favorites.